Make Your Own Simple Drying Rack
The Next Best Thing to a Clothesline
By Daniel Strauss, Lockport, New York
It was my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday and my wife wanted to give her a practical gift of a drying rack for her laundry. I had made a large one a couple of years before and when she had seen it she wished she had one. On a 90°F day in August and wanting to do a project in the shade, I built this rack for her. Below are the instructions on how to make one. I have included many pictures, since the instructions can be difficult to understand without them. This rack is smaller than my original, but sufficient for most people.
Above is a picture of the completed rack. Let’s look at it before we start to describe how to build it. It is made of three pieces: there are the top cross arms, an inner section and an outer section. The inner and outer sections are joined in the middle with bolts on the legs, making it work like a pair of scissors. The top cross piece is joined at the top and on the inside of the inner section with a bolt, making a hinge. At the other side of the cross piece, two long thin bolts act as pins that go through the top of the outer section and the top cross piece, holding the rack open and preventing it from collapsing. The top cross piece can fold into the inner section, and the inner section can fold into the outer section of the rack, as shown in the next picture (photo 2). Now let’s get started on the details.
You will need:
- (2) 1″ x 2″ x 8′ boards
- (11) 1″ x 2″ x 6′ boards (use good lumber, I could have bought cheaper lumber but it wasn’t as sturdy and was rough cut)
- (2) ¼” bolts about 3 ½” long
- (4) 3/8″ bolts 2 ½” long
- (4) 3/8″ nuts
- (12) washers with 3/8″ hole and about 1″ in total diameter,
- (1) 100 count box of 6″ x 1 ½” screws, and
- 14″ of string.
- Saw (circular saw works nice)
- Drill with a 1/8″ bit, ¼” bit, 3/8″ bit, and a fine bit smaller than the diameter of the 6″ x 1 ½” screw (I had broken all of my fine bits so I cut the head off of a fine nail and used that as my drill bit—worked well)
- Screw driver (preferably electric or a drill with a Phillips bit)
- Tape measure
- A little duct tape
Cut the two 1″ x 2″ x 8′ boards in half—use the tape measure to mark the center, and set them aside. (The boards I used were about ½” longer than eight feet, so I marked the very center.) These will be the legs.
Now cut (9) 1′ x 2″ x 6′ boards, measure 2′ 11″ in from the end and mark them. You will have 3’ 1” remaining. Set the 1″ x 2″ x 2′ 11″ in one pile and the 1″ x 2″ x 3′ 1″ in another. These will be the bars the laundry hangs on.
We will build the inner section first. Lay two 4′ legs flat on the floor, mark each end T for top and B for bottom. Measure from the bottom up 2′, to find the middle of each leg. Then from the bottom, measure up and place a mark at 6″, 11″, 16″, and 21″. You should be 3″ from the middle if everything was measured correctly. Now from the middle, continue to measure up toward the top making a mark at 3″ above center, 8″, 13″, 18″ and 22″. This should leave about 2″ to the top. Once both legs are measured, stand them on edge 2′ 11″ apart, and use your 1″ x 2″ x 2′ 11″ boards to measure at the top and bottom to make sure the legs are parallel, with marks facing outward. Don’t screw in the bottom cross bar yet.
Once parallel, screw in the cross boards, making sure the bottom leg ends are even with one another. Starting at the top, place a 1″ x 2″ x 2′ 11″ flat, so it’s centered over the mark you made at 22″ above center. The boards should not hang over the edges of the legs, but should be even with or slightly inside of the leg edge. If anything hangs over, it will interfere with closing the unit up. Drill two holes on each side, one above another, and place screws in holes. Screw them through the cross board into the edge of the leg.
Be sure to use two screws on each side of the wooden cross board. (The first one I made, I only used one screw, and the whole thing took to leaning to one side, two screws prevent it from flexing.) Don’t tighten the screws too tight or you will split the wood. I found it was easier to drill one side and screw that side in then move to the other side. Install the other cross pieces the same way, working down, until you are finished with the 3″ mark above the center. (It should look like photo 3.)
Now that you have reached center, flip the unit over so that the boards you have just installed are facing the floor. Starting from 6″ above bottom, install cross pieces at the marks 6″, 11″, 16″ and 21″. You are finished with the inner section (See photo 4) for now.
For the outer section, measure 2′ up from bottom to find center, mark and tape a washer to each leg at center. (This is to be sure of spacing. When complete, a washer will be in between the legs. Notice photo 4 and the washer taped at center.) Lay the legs of your outer section on edge, washers facing your completed inner section, making sure the bottoms of the legs are even with the legs of the inner section. Take your 1″ x 2″ x 3′ 1″ boards and where the inner section has its cross pieces facing the floor, center the 1″ x 2″ x 3′ 1″ over top of its matching companion on the completed inner section. (See photo 5.)
This prevents the need of having to re-measure the outer section legs since all the boards will match up anyway. If the cross pieces hang over the edge of the legs, it’s okay, since this is the outside of the rack. Continue installing the cross boards like you did with the inner section, until you reach the center, then flip the whole unit over and install the cross pieces of the inner section that are now facing the floor. (From experience, don’t get distracted and screw them into the wrong legs.) Once finished give it a try, see if it opens and closes. If so, remove the washers.
Close the unit up, making sure the bottom feet are even with each other, and the inner and outer sections are snug together and even. Find your center marks on the legs. At the center, drill a 3/8″ hole through both inner and outer section legs. Slip a washer between the legs, line the washer up with the hole you just drilled, put a washer on the bolt, push the bolt through the 3/8″ hole, add a washer to the bolt and put on the nut. You should have a washer on the outside, in between the legs, and on the inside. Hand-tighten the nut. Do the same on the other leg. It now should work just like a pair of scissors. (See photo 6)
Now for the top cross arms. You should have (2) 1″ x 2″ x 6′ boards left. Take one and cut two pieces 23 ½” long. Open the rack up and lay these inside of the legs, on edge, making sure the ends of the arms are even with the top of the inner section legs. About 5/8″ down from the top, center your drill and drill through the top of the inner section leg and through the 23 ½” cross arm. Insert bolt and washers like you did previously, and place nut on. (See photo 7) Do the same for the other side. A problem now emerges—try closing the rack. The bolts you just added interferes with it closing. Close the unit the best you can, and with your pencil mark the legs of the outer section just below the bolt of the inner section. With your saw, cut off the top of the outer legs so they can now close as seen in photo 7. It should only be a little over 1″ cut off.
We are ready to place two bars across the top section. Measure the distance between the edge of the top cross arm where it touches the leg of the inner section, to the cross arm opposite where it touches the inner section. It should measure 2′ 9 ½”, or close to that. From your last 1″ x 2″ x 6′ board cut to 2′ 9-3/8″ long (or if you got a different measurement reduce its length by 1/8″). Starting at the top of the outer section (which should be facing up) look for the second gap down between the cross pieces of the outer section. Place one of the 1″ x 2″ x 2′ 9-3/8″ in this gap, aligning it so that it rests on the arms of the top cross arm section. It must not over hang; drill and screw in. Do the same in the next gap between bars. (See photo 8.) These will hold the two cross arms together and add a couple of bars to hang laundry on.
Now for the pins that hold the unit together so it can stand. Unfold the drying rack so that it is on its side; unfold the top cross arms and fold the unhinged end so that it is touching the top bar on the outer section of the drying rack. Drill a ¼” hole though the top of the leg of the outer section, through the end of the cross arm piece. Insert a ¼” bolt, flip over and do the other side. Just below or above the ¼” bolt, drill a 1/8″ hole on the outer section leg. Cut your 14″ string in half and feed it through the small hole; tie it to the leg and to the bolt just below the head. Do the same to the other side. This is so you don’t misplace your bolts when you store the unit. (See picture 9.)
Now that it is finished, stand the unit up. It should look like an X with a top cross bar. (Refer back to photo 1.) It is normal to have a 1 ½” gap between the top of the outer section leg and the end of the cross arm that the ¼” bolt goes through. (As seen in photo 9.)
Time to hang laundry. The bars closest to the ground and the bars just above the middle are for short laundry, and the bars furthest from the ground or furthest from the center are for longer laundry. This whole project should only take an afternoon to make.
The beauty of this rack is that if you break a bar they are easy to replace. Total cost from the big box store was $47, including the exorbitant 8% New York sales tax. My sister-in-law loved hers; she puts it near her wood burning stove to dry her laundry.
The design can be scaled up. The first one I built uses 6′ legs instead of 4′, and holds more laundry. A final word of warning: be careful of who you show your drying rack to, or they will want you to make one for them.